Friday, May 12, 2017

The Traffic In St. Thomas

What you're looking at right here is just one of the many impossible traffic problems you're going to run into at some point if you live on St. Thomas.  This particular clusterfuck was cause by a pretty bad accident on the Waterfront stretch (apparently a car FLIPPED OVER).  I'm not even sure how people pull off these amazing feats of carelessness with such tiny roads, limited speeds and more potholes than you can play Whack-A-Mole with.

Somebody posted today just how terrible the situation is especially in the Waterfront vicinity.  We just finished Carnival so there were times where it was downright painful.  Now I'm not going to address Carnival traffic.  That's a special animal that the VI Carnival Committee has never seen fit to address (seriously guys, park and ride shuttling using open parking areas could have dropped that traffic to a third of what it was).  Let's take a look at the everyday problems that contribute to our bad traffic situation.

The Problems

1.  Lack of a Reliable Public Transit System

This problem starts way back when a private bus company named Mannassah was the lone mass transit system around.  Yes, PRIVATE.  People will tell you it's a good thing when private entities compete with governmental functions.  Normally that's true.  The problem here is THERE WAS NO GOVERNMENTAL FUNCTION related to public transit.  At some point Mannassah folded and VITRAN came into being.  Unfortunately everyone was too used to the inconsistent and often non-functioning bus system and decided it would be best to invest in personal transportation.  People did so in droves (pun intended).  A few years ago public transit was re-branded and overhauled but the problem remains and is actually getting worse.

2.  Too Many Bottlenecks

I can sum this up in two words: right turns.  Going East to West from the spot in the pic above, there are 4 places you can make a right turn.  Only 1 has its own "waiting lane".  The other 3 require oncoming traffic to stop and allow you to make that turn.  While 2 of those lights have right turn lights they're pretty much useless.  You still have to stop traffic in your lane and you have to hope there's space to turn in the oncoming lane.

3.  Governmental Scheduling

Public schools open at 7:30am and let out at 2:30pm.  Government offices are open from 8am to 5pm. Know this: There will be traffic from 7:30am to 9:00am and from 2:00pm to around 7pm.  Around the midpoint of those times are the worst.  This is assuming that there are no accidents, emergencies or breakdowns that limit mobility.  Alternate routes are few and far between.  By the time you're stuck in traffic it's too late to escape.

4.  Taxis and Tourism

Most cruise ship stays match the government schedule with some deviation of 30 minutes to an hour. And when cruise ships are here taxis are in full swing.  The operations at the docks are pretty smooth (I'm exaggerating since the traffic is kinda kept localized there).  It's when they hit the open roads that things start slowing down.  They tend to stop in irregular places so their riders can take pictures or crowd the attractions creating more bottlenecks.  They're biggest sin though is cruising Main Street and Waterfront looking for tourists to take back to the ship.  Taxis have tons of designated parking spaces they never seem to use because they're always trolling.

The Solutions?

1.  Step Up Public Transit

So we got a few new buses.  It's not enough.  Dollar safaris still need to operate to fill the gap and your chances of catching one of them are much greater than catching an actual bus.  I spent a week relying on public transportation when my car was in for repairs and I can tell you that catching a bus was near impossible.  They rarely show up and when they do they aren't going where you need to go (not that we'd ever know since there's no published bus route or schedule) or they pass you straight (I think there's like some kind of special dance you have to do to make them stop ;) ).

2.  Traffic Enforcement

Things that happen here on a regular basis: People run red lights...a lot, people don't stop at STOP signs, there's no order at all at 4 way intersections, Left Lane MUST Turn Left is taken as a suggestion, people turn left on red even if there's no sign allowing for left turns on red.  It's CHAOS. The cops pretty much don't care unless there's an accident.  I think if the police made an effort to patrol some of the spots that really hold up traffic it would go a long way to fixing the problem.

3.  Flex Time For Government Workers

So the VI Government has an Employee Handbook that hasn't been updated since 1994 and for the most part contains suggestions.  Here's what it says about work hours:
The standard workweek is five days. The standard workday is 8 hours. The standard work hours are from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with one (1) hour for lunch, usually from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 P.M. Employees who are entitled to a break each morning and afternoon under law will be advised at what time the breaks are scheduled. 
Riveting.  Notice the only thing that's actually a legal mandate is the morning and afternoon breaks. For over 20 years now, these hours were pretty much set in stone.  I've seen versions of flex time come and go but there always comes a point where a manager or a director or a commissioner decides to end the policy for various reasons.  Sometimes it's actual abuse and others it's just plain old good old fashioned spite.

My point here is that the times that traffic is at its worst is between 7:30am and 8:30am  and subsequently between 5pm and 6pm.  But what if the option to not travel at those times was available.  I'd imagine some people would definitely want to take advantage just to avoid the traffic.

4.  Invest In Fixing Known Bottlenecks

You can't take care of the moving bottlenecks as much (maybe with traffic enforcement), but there are several places around the island that are known to cause a slowdown in traffic.  Sometimes they're as simple as the timing on a traffic light and other times it's right turn that simply cannot be made smoothly.  It would help if the Department of Public Works had a direct line of communication with the drivers to identify problem areas.  Maybe a town hall or a suggestion box.

Got any ideas of your own?  Let me know what you think in the comments.

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